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Possibilities for Russian-US Nuclear Security Cooperation | Tejas Rao

Tejas Rao

At the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism’s (GICNT) Implementation and Assessment Group (IAG) meeting in New Delhi, India in February of 2017, 41 of 86 GICNT partner nations and four of the official GICNT international observer organizations showed up, not only to recognize the work put in over the last year to combat nuclear terrorism, but also to prepare goals for the GICNT Plenary session to be held in Tokyo in June of 2017.  During this meeting, three main goals were outlined which Russia and the United States, as founders and co-chairs of GICNT, could utilize to lead the way as continued partners in attacking nuclear terrorism at the Plenary session in June and other smaller GICNT events in the next two years. By recognizing concerns put forth by other members of GICNT and constructing an agenda to tackle those very concerns, the United States and Russia could show a united front—despite disagreements regarding Syria and Russia’s Data Localization Law—all in an arena which could afford both strength and respect within the international community. For all of the butting of proverbial heads which has occurred since President Trump’s nomination in November of 2016, both showing and promoting unity regarding such a volatile international threat is exactly what both parties need to do right now.

Members of the New Delhi AIG meeting first stated frustrations with attempting to implement the legal criminalizing of terrorist activities involving radioactive/nuclear materials on a national scale. Second, participants expressed a dire need to raise awareness about radioactive source security, or nuclear fissile materials security. The transport of nuclear materials and the ongoing debate regarding the safest methods for disposing of radioactive materials, along with protecting radioactive materials used for domestic and industrial purposes, are key players in this debate, but, above all else, further education and exchanging of information is needed to promote the essential idea of just how important such security regulations truly are. Third, sustainability needs to be improved when it comes to a national framework for nuclear security[1], which essentially means continuity within states regarding how each protects and handles its nuclear materials. While GICNT and the three working groups within GICNT bring together the international community to combat nuclear terrorism, states must have solid security levels within their borders before, realistically being able to govern and police nuclear terrorism from outside its borders.

At the 10th Anniversary Meeting of GICNT in June of 2016, many participants stated the desire to work more closely with other nuclear security institutions—such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)[2]. While both the IAEA and the UNODC are two of the five international organization observers to GICNT, many member states see more opportunities to work with and learn from those institutions that what the GICNT is currently taking advantage of.

If Russia and the United States were to pull in those three main goals from the AIG meeting in New Delhi and address that main concern from the 10th Anniversary meeting, the GICNT would surge forward with progress, Russia and the United States would find common ground regarding a common threat, and a working relationship would be forged between the Russian government and the newly indoctrinated Trump government. This is not to say that in one fell swoop all three goals and the concern of working more closely with other international organizations would be taken care of; but progress takes a catalyst and GICNT is the perfect catalyst for Russian-United States relations.

For example, the IAEA has a full year’s agenda posted to its website and a simple search shows 43 events already scheduled for this year addressing nuclear materials security.[3] They have training events, plenary sessions, and technical policy guideline meetings in various locations across the globe with various partners. One such event, a “Regional Training Course on the Security of Radioactive Sources,” was scheduled for March 13-17, 2016 in Obninsk, Russia[4]. The United States could send a delegation to Russia or invite a Russian delegation to Washington to discuss what Russia learned from that training, and, following that meeting, could draft a GICNT session together regarding regional training on radioactive sources security—perhaps not for the Plenary meeting in a month’s time, but for later this year. Many nations have stated improved regional cooperation relations regarding nuclear terrorism defense after attending GICNT events. This would be one way in which the United States and Russia could improve their relationship, the international community could visibly see two power houses coming together to fight a common enemy, and the international community would be stronger and more prepared to guard its nuclear materials against terrorism after attending such an event.

As the chemical attacks in Syria have been a blatant point of contention between Russia and the United States and as there is an overwhelmingly positive response amongst GICNT members to field exercises and tabletop discussions, to show the world (and each other) that Russia and the United States are united against chemical attacks and nuclear terrorism, both nations, as GICNT co-chairs, could invite a regulatory body from the scientific community (to placate GICNT member state requests to incorporate views from scientific and industrial industries[5]) to lead a workshop similar to one completed in Panama in November of 2016. The government of Panama hosted a GICNT workshop titled, “Medical Response Workshop: Nuclear Terrorism, Global Challenges.”[6] Such exercises have proven extremely beneficial to parties in attendance and would be a good opportunity for the United States and Russia to show unity on such a thorny subject. Using the Radiological Emergency Management Exercises (REMEX) as models for such workshops would also be helpful.[7]

By continuing to learn from each other’s experiences regarding nuclear terrorism and by addressing GICNT member states’ concerns and desired goals as a united team, the United States and Russia can advance the cooperation amongst themselves and internationally regarding the issue of combating nuclear terrorism.



[4] Ibid.

[5] Supra n.2

[6] Supra n.1

[7] Supra n.2


Tejas Rao is a student of law at Gujarat National Law University.

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